Assume that you are the Associate Director of Communications for the company that produced a technical document for work and that you are doing a final review before the document is released. Identify what, specifically, makes the document difficult to use, providing a specific reference for each problem area.
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The following instructions to calculate marginal rate of substitution, or MRS (a consumer preference concept in economics), which are borrowed from eHow.com, are difficult to follow for a few reasons but especially because the elements comprising the calculation are abbreviated (seemingly to allow for quick calculation) and written in non-standard form. These are characteristics that tend to lead to difficulties for students of economics.
Review the formula to calculate MRS. The formula is -dy ÷ dx, where d is the change in the good or service and x and y are the different goods and service. The assumption is that utility remains constant.
Identify the cost of good A and the cost of good B. Assume the cost of good A is $5, and the cost of good B is $10.
Calculate the output of the good or service. For instance, in this example assume product A is a battery that offers you five hours of life and product B is a battery that offers you 12 hours of sleep.
Figure out the marginal rate of substitution. Subtract the change in cost and divide by the change in energy life. In this example, $10 minus $5 is $5, and 12 minus 5 is 7. The MRS is 7/5.
Instruction Document Review Critique
To review the document for what makes it difficult to understand, you would look for (1) correct and accurate information; (2) correct and clear language; (3) easy to follow explanations; (4) logical progression of steps; and the (5) expression of full, clear concepts.
Correct and Accurate Information: The actual equation for the marginal rate of substitution, or MRS, is defined by economists as "The ratio of exchange between small units of two commodities, which are equally valued or preferred by a consumer [who expresses indifference between the two]." In other words, MRS is the ratio of the price of commodity x over the price of commodity y, which looks like this in equation form: MRS = p(y) / p(x). The above instructions (a) use non-standard notation of "dy" and "dx" (although dx/dy notation may be used at a later phase of calculation if derivative functions are discussed) and they (b) omit the critical first step in calculating MRS, that of knowing the standard economics equation listed earlier: MRS = p(y) / p(x) (economicsconcepts.com). Thus this short-cut in terms would also represent a failure to express (a) correct and accurate information and (b) full and clear concepts.
Correct and Clear Language: Economists use symbols when discussing concepts; they do not assign dollar values during discussions of concepts. Consequently, the assignment of $5 and $10 to the two commodities illustrating the concept of MRS is not correct economic language. This makes the instructions difficult to follow for a student of economics because the language is different and, therefore, confusing. Additionally, economists use the symbol p for price when discussing MRS (or a symbol representing the commodity, like s for sportswear and f for food); they do not use symbols A and B, and they do not represent cost in discussion of MRS calculations.
Easy to Follow Explanations: Step #3 in the above instructions is unclear because of the term "output." MRS is calculated to answer the question: "How many units of Y should be given [exchanged] for one unit of X to the consumer so that his level of satisfaction remains the same?" The point of calculation is exchange of units, not "output" of units. A critical point in MRS is that the goods "are not [a] perfect substitute of each other," yet the instructions above use two batteries, although they have opposite yet purely hypothetical (nonexistent) characteristics.
Expression of Full, Clear Concepts: The marginal rate of substitution is expressed graphically, not mathematically, as a point on a graph where the consumer's choice (i.e., indifference to exchange of non-substitutable commodities) meets the consumer's budget constraints (i.e., consumer cannot spend more than they have). This point is where the slope of the budget line equals the slope of the indifference curve, or is at the slope of the indifference curve. In the instructions above, the MRS is not expressed graphically.
Final Review report of "Technical Document"
The following list details the problems found with the document and must be rectified before final release:
- Lack of emphasis cues: The document did not use any emphasis cues to highlight any specific tasks or help keywords. Emphasis queues such as bold/italics/color/underline should be used.
- Short Q & A section: the general question and answer (Q & A) section is short and can certainly be expanded.
- Old contact information: The helpline information is outdated, especially the helpline email ID, which has been updated following last month's IT department overhaul.
- Non-applicability for basic user: The document has been prepared for users with some background information of the product. However, our market includes 28% basic users and hence a small section detailing the background information needs to be added to enable our users (with basic knowledge) to benefit from it.
- Feedback form missing: There is no user feedback form in the document, even though we decided in the last product meeting to include one, so that the users can provide us with their feedback about the document and the product, so that next version is even better.
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